"There was even a Transcendental commune, but it was short-lived (as communes filled with intellectuals usually are)." - from Our Gods Wear Spandex: The Secret History of Comic Book Heroes (Christopher Knowles with illustrations by Joseph Michael Linsner), which I have been reading while watching Heroes at home with Anna. Drew gave us Season 1 to watch. Must say: great television. But, the overall premise of the show has been buggin' me. So, now I'm into researching the history of comic book superheroes and trying (key word) to see connections (and disconnections) between superheroes and the global, dislocated economy.
But as I playfully pursue that relationship, I'm gaining all kinds of useless knowledge, like: Did you know that Freemasons are supposedly derivatives of The Knights Templar and Egyptian mystery cults? Whoa. Me neither.
It doesn't get any more domestic than this, folks...
First off, a little sewing. I've been having lots of fun trying my hand at clothing for the kids -- so far, some pj pants for Wyatt, and a kimono top that he sported at the Multicultural Festival this year, but that will get wide-spread use. I got the pattern from Habitual, but changed some minor things and added the arm patch with that oh-so-cool plastic belt buckle from who-knows-when.
Secondly, but perhaps more predominantly, lots of preserving. Freezing, drying, and canning of the summer's bounty. As much as I enjoy doing this and the feeling I get of being connected to generations before me doing the same, I really don't like preserved food. Doing this work almost brings me to tears (seriously), thinking about having no fresh food in a matter of months. I hate winter here perhaps for the sole reason that there is a period of time when there is NO FRESH PRODUCE. At least not locally, which we all know by now is the only way to go. If you have doubts about that, you can request an informational post from me in the comments section! In any case, I do what I have to do.
Lastly, I really am getting the occasional moment in the "art room," which houses both my supplies as well as Wyatt's. It lacks work space right now, but I'm just happy to finally have it organized, thanks to my mom's inspiration and reworking of her own studio space. We have traded and repurposed many a storage container between the two of us, which meant I didn't end up buying anything new for the entire space! Hooray for that.
All this combined with getting the daily laundry on the line, keeping Elise fed, changed, and slept, as well as filling in for Wes these last few weeks on the basketball court with Wyatt ("Airball, Mom...") has been keeping me busy...and aware of my limitations.
Our first family venture out with the "dualie" Ironman. This thing looks like a beast, and - so Anna tells me - it is. I have yet to push the "45 pound carriage" for more than a few blocks. Clearly, the kids don't know a good thing when they ride in it (see the picture). But, seriously, Anna swears to me that they really do enjoy it. Do you like the side-by-side sich-ee-a-tion? We figured this would cut down on first child, second child stereotypes. Elise laughed for the first time about a week ago (at me of course). Here is a great picture of her in full facial stretch. Love those dimples and the dress! If only I were this happy in my own shoes all the time. The picture I didn't post was of me in Wyatt's diaper throwing a tantrum. "Yai-Yai" (as Wyatt refers to himself these days) just 's growin' like the proverbial weeds that are also running wild all over our yard. Can't he do dad's chores when he wears dad's shoes?
"In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God … And the Word became flesh and lived among us …”
"Your body is a temple of the Holy Spirit within you …”
Paul to the Corinthian believers
Ain't Nothing the Matter with Matter
“Matter is real. Flesh is good,” the wise pastor tells us, “without a firm rooting in creation, religion is always drifting off …The Word did not become a good idea, or a numinous feeling, or a moral aspiration; the Word became flesh.”1 This is such an important point that both the beginning of the Old Testament (Genesis) and the New Testament (the Gospels) begin by telling us plainly God has blessed and honored the created world. We cannot practice our faith by bypassing our bodies and moving into our heads or our souls. We must begin where God begins: with the matter of creation, with our very bodies.
There is something incredible about our bodies … no doubt about that. The intricacy of nerves and synapse, the unbelievable complexity of all that our bodies do every minute to sustain and produce life, the coordination between eyes and hands: all bespeak of God’s amazing design. But, just as our bodies speak of life, when we truly consider them, they also teach us something else.
Our bodies teach us the sacredness of vulnerability, the holiness of finitude. We live as temples of flesh and blood, flesh that ages, blood that can spill. You realize that when you hold a baby, when you care for a dying parent. Stephanie Paulsell who wrote the article “Honoring the Body” for the book Practicing Our Faith emphasizes this sacredness in our vulnerability, a fact we frequently do recognize while holding babies. But, the sacredness of our condition doesn’t just end with swaddling blankets. Our bodies are at all times in need of care, of nutrition, of protection. Our bodies are at all times marching towards the cessation of life. From dust we came, to dust we shall return our ancestors remind us.
Many people, though, prefer to ignore that reminder and run from their vulnerability and finitude. Christianity itself has not been immune from such tendencies. In fact, in the 2nd Century a type of theological mid-life crisis occurred. Certain believers began to question the sacredness of flesh and blood. They tried to mask God-realities of blessed creation by dividing life into matter (bad) and spirit/wisdom (good). Gnosticism was its name, and while Gnosticism was declared heresy on several occasions that hasn’t stopped the same thought from creeping up again and again. It’s not all that uncommon to hear a devout soul exclaim the word “flesh” in a vile and repugnant tone. And we can’t forget that even the great apostle Paul opened the door to such division when he declared that terrible conflict between “spirit” and “flesh” (Romans 7).
But, despite all that, here we are. We are human beings. We have eyes and ears, limbs and organs. While we may prefer to have other materials to work with, there are none. As the poet Jane Kenyon tells us our life is a “long struggle to be at home in the body, this difficult friendship.”
Many of us don’t do very well with this friendship. We compare our bodies to the images we see on television or those printed in magazines. We wonder why God has given us too much of this or not enough of that. We curse our bodies for failing us, for straining against us even when we seek to do them well by exercising.
Learning to Honor the Body in Community
Perhaps this is why honoring the body is a practice that is best learned in community. In community we discover this paradox: often we learn to care and honor our body when we cease to focus on our bodies and focus instead on the needs of others. This is where the sacredness of vulnerability becomes essential again.
Seeing Christ in Others … and In Us
When we take time to consider those around us, to see them as real, matter-of-fact people with real needs, real beauty and real blemishes, we begin to see the godliness in those persons. That even includes the sacredness of the wounded. In fact, the more we allow ourselves to see wounded or handicapped persons as human beings, the more apt we are to see the world with godly compassion. Paulsell explains: “The practice of honoring the body keeps these wounded bodies visible not as objects but as persons made in God’s image. The practice of honoring the body leads us to prophetic action by forming us as persons who love every human body and the ravaged body of earth itself.” It is this same prophetic seeing that Jesus invited when he encouraged the disciples to go out and feed and clothe those in need (Matthew 25).
Jesus’ words are especially important. They demonstrate that any gospel that seeks to divorce itself from the body (from real people with real needs) is empty. And just as important: Jesus’ very life proved God’s recognition of both the sacredness of the material and the necessity to redeem us fully—including our bodies. Christ came bodily and Christ was resurrected bodily. Christianity is, as Paulsell declares, an “embodied” faith.
The Body in Worship
The Christian Church has also sought to marry both soul and body in distinct worship practices. In fact, Christian worship is itself intended to honor the body. Worship is corporeal: “in the meal of communion, we eat and drink, gathered together by Christ’s own wounded body; in baptism, it is our bodies that are bathed in cleansing water; in the passing of the peace, we touch one another in love and hope” (Paulsell, 16). But it is not just the Lord’s Supper, baptism and the passing of the peace that makes worship corporeal. All of worship demands our faculties. It is impossible to worship God without first recognizing the role our bodies play.
So as you prepare to worship this Sunday, take a moment to consider those who will gather with you, the body of Christ. While you don’t have to stare, do notice them. Then, locate the baptismal font and the communion table. And invite the Holy Spirit to give you an awareness of God’s presence, to help you understand more fully the psalmist's expression: “taste and see the Lord is good” (Psalm 34:8). 2
1 Peterson, Eugene. The Contemplative Pastor. Pg. 68. 2 This article is heavily influenced by Paulsell’s article and the quote from Jane Kenyon also comes from her work in the book Practicing Our Faith.
I began reading John Thompson's Reading the Bible with the Dead: What You Can Learn from the History of Exegesis that You Can't Learn from Exegesis Alone tonight, which is a fabulous book, even if you don't know what the word "exegesis" means (okay, so now you're curious: exegesis).
John Thompson is the professor of historical theology and the Gaylan & Susan Byker Professor of Reformed Theology at Fuller Theological Seminary. He is also the same man who taught me how to navigate the steep descents of the Los Angeles National Forest on a mountain bike and the man who taught me Reformed history. Needless to say, I mastered the first endeavor about as well as the second, and I came no where close to the proficiency, skill and artistry that John did with both disciplines.
On top of that, John and his wife Marianne Meye Thompson, helped guide me through my final years of seminary and helped prepare me for pastoral ministry - a transition that is much more difficult than what you might expect or hope for pastors.
All that to say, I was deeply thankful to pick up John's book and to sink my teeth into something I knew would be judicious, hilarious, insightful and devoted to seeking God's word above all. And, I have not been disappointed.
The aim of the book is to reintroduce to pastors and biblical scholars alike the virtue and reasonableness of consulting the treasure trove of commentaries compiled by church leaders throughout the last two thousand years - to see what they have to say about the bible's most difficult passages (many of them detailing horrible atrocities committed against women). In so doing, Thompson hopes to dialogue with modern critical scholars (including feminist scholars) and modern churchmen and women who assume God's verdict has been cast one way or the other regarding the morality of these tales.
The first chapter has to do with the story of Abraham, Sarah and Hagar - specifically the way that Genesis both honors and vilifies Hagar for her role in the first family of faith. I won't go into how the Christian church read this story (including the Apostle Paul's own interesting interpretation in Galatians 4). But I do want to say something briefly about Genesis.
What strikes me tonight - especially after reading about the remarkably virtuous, resourceful and endearing manner in which Hagar handles herself and her child (Genesis 16 & 21) - is how frequently God turns things upside down in Genesis. God appears to use not only the foolish to shame the wise, but - in Genesis - God appears to use the duplicitous and deceitful (Jacob), the innocent and arrogant (Joseph), the demanding and jealous (Sarah), and - in Abraham's case - the neglectful and passive-aggressive to somehow still bring forth a blessing. Or, in other words, the people we so often celebrate as our grandfathers and grandmothers in faith are often times the very ones who fail to exhibit the nobility of their calling and role. It is as if God goes to great lengths to show that God can work a blessing even out of the most crooked of characters. That is the story of grace: the working of the greater miracle even against or in spite of our own deficiencies.
So, thank you John ... for your continued pursuit of the blessing in the "whole counsel of God," and your willingness to reintroduce the very stories that challenge and beg our faith to be more than we would have it be on our own.
For the last couple of weeks, I've been listening to Raising Sand, the album that brought Robert Plant and Alison Krauss together. And, a few weeks before that I purchased one of the new singles on Neil Diamond's latest album, Home Before Dark (this album was produced by Rick Rubin who helped orchestrate the Americanrecordings for Johnny Cash). Like Cash's American albums, Home Before Darkfeatures a scaled back approach, allowing Neil Diamond to exercise his essential giftedness. It just so happens the song I purchased was another duet: Neil Diamond paired up with Natalie Maines of the Dixie Chicks.
There's something else going on in the Kendall house, too. It's the number two. As of yesterday, we have taken definite steps to end our ability to (re)produce any more Wes' or Anna's - leaving the prospective number of descendants at ... two. So, in honor of Wyatt and Elise, here are my ten top duets (I'll even include videos of #10 & #1):
10. Johnny Cash & Joni Mitchell - Long Black Veil: Two of my favorite singer-songwriters of all time, on opposite sides of the range. Even their personalities in this video seem light years apart (the angelic Mitchell and the hardened Cash). This song was a Cash original I believe. But, on the Johnny Cash show, it was not uncommon for Cash to pair up with another big name star to sing a song. Interestingly, this song has since become a favorite for other duet-ers, including a rendition by Dave Matthews and Emmylou Harris (see it here).
9. Paul Simon & Art Garfunkel - Bookends: It's hard to qualify Paul and Art as a duet. They seemed so much one up until their break. But, of all their songs, Bookends most clearly demonstrates the grace exuded by their harmonies.
8. Peter Gabriel & Kate Bush - Don't Give Up: If you check Youtube, you can find the original video from the 80's. The song really is great, but when you watch the video it just seems agonizingly awkward. Gabriel and Bush grasp each other in forced embrace with a sun in the background, which becomes eclipsed. Although, given Gabriel's other videos ... well, it's fairly normal.
7. Johnny Cash & Bob Dylan - Girl from the North Country: Another strange pairing for Mr. Cash. Bob Dylan supposedly had quit smoking when this song was originally recorded, which only added to the uniqueness in his voice. This is a great country song, something I imagine sung out on those wild, lonesome prairies.
6. Ray Charles & Willie Nelson - It Was a Very Good Year: Every time I hear this song, I still think of the Simpson's when Homer has the flashback to his late high school years ("When I was seventeen I drank some very good beer ..."). But, that aside, Charles and Nelson add their strong, soulful voices to the reminiscent instruments. Originally a Sinatra hit, Ray remade it along with several other songs on the duet album Genius Loves Company.
5. Robert Plant & Alison Krauss - Your Long Journey: What strikes me about this duo is that both Plant and Krauss seem confined on the album, particularly Plant. That's especially true on the hit song, Stick With Me Baby. It's as if they recorded the song with the mic in the next room over. And on Journey, Krauss clearly takes the lead throughout the song. Still, the combination of these two stars with the bluegrass picking is perfect.
4. Neil Diamond & Natalie Maines - Another Day (That Time Forgot): Right away, Neil Diamond commands the stage with that rasping remembering. Then comes Natalie Maines: perfect and haunting in her own way. Together the strike out as opposite in equal - strong man, strong woman. And the song ends with them both releasing the day with painful, healing cries of lament, "Oh no!"
3. Bono & Daniel Lanois - Falling At Your Feet: Lanois - whose fame rose after the movie Friday Night Lights - paired up with U2's lead man to create a subtle, encompassing song that is largely a prayer. The song's point: every one of us falls down, which is both the epitome of frailty and praise. As David Crowder would say: it's a beautiful collision.
2. Marvin Gaye & Tammi Terrell - Ain't Nothing Like the Real Thing: Motown's miracle makers, Gaye and Terrell produced hit after hit in the mid to late 60's, including other well known duets like Ain't No Mountain High Enough and You're All I Need to Get By. Terrell died tragically young in 1970, putting an end to some great music. It also sent Marvin Gaye in a completely new direction. In 1971, he would release What's Going On.
1. Loretta Lynn & Jack White - Portland, Oregon: This is just brilliant. With White producing the album, Loretta Lynn found her career resurrected, bringing the Coal Miner's Daughter into a whole new generation. The entire album won a Grammy for best country album, and Portland, Oregon won for best country collaboration with vocals. In some ways, this is not a duet. The third voice is Jack White's guitar, which sings the first 1:35. And then comes Lynn: "Well, Portland, Oregon and sloe gin fizz, if that ain't love, then tell me what is ... uh huh ..."
With the Olympics only hours away now every major media is full of stories about the rising influence of China upon the global stage. Tonight, ABC's Primetime is looking at the role China's growing urban economy is playing on the entire world in a special hosted by Bob Woodruff titled China: Inside Out (read more about the special here). The show is taking snap shots of four specific countries throughout the globe influenced by China's growing demand for energy.
Fifteen minutes of the special were spent in Brazil, which now exports vast amounts of its soy production to China. The obvious question is, "why?" especially considering that just a few years ago China was able to raise and supply all of its soy needs. But, as China's economic possibilities have exploded - lifting 600 million out of poverty in just 30 years (the greatest such surge in recorded history) - China's culture has moved from an agricultural, rather energy independent culture to an industrialized, energy sapping culture. Thus, the extra soy is going to feed steers and other livestock, which are being slaughtered to feed urbanized workers.
And with the growing industrialized economy come other costs. For one, although China is home to 20% of the world's population, China only holds 10% of the world's arable land (China: Inside Out). As more land is dedicated to industrialization that 10% continues to decline. On top of that, there's this: all the construction and development is dependent upon the one thing we are all learning is not dependable, oil.
Which then leads to the question, "Why China change so quickly and place itself in long-term risk?" The answer to that question is built off of two ironies.
First of all, China, the minor 20th Century political adversary to American democracy, is changing so quickly because America is making it grow. When Nixon went to China he did so during a vanguard period, throwing open the door to Chinese industry at the very moment China was actually letting their own doors open to the world. That small change in two country's foreign policies have since created a codependent relationship of supply and demand.
We - as we continued to drown Soviet Russia in our spending and full-bore economy - expanded our notion of sufficiency ... and coincidentally expanded China's notion of productivity. Even after the Soviet economy collapsed, ours continued to charge ahead, and our insatiable demand for more and more goods at cheaper and cheaper costs birthed China's own capitalistic economy. For instance, China's current one day exports now equal what China exported in an entire year in the late 1970's - exports that end up in countless malls and - perhaps most notoriously - in low cost Walmart's throughout America (China: Inside Out).
It gets worse. Our addiction to consumption leads us into habits of borrowing both personally and nationally. This is the second irony, one too poignant and potentially disastrous to laugh at. The money Chinese men and women are making off American consumptive habits is - in part - going back into the US economy to finance further American spending. Chinese individuals and Chinese businesses are buying bonds to finance federal spending, and they are buying interests in US corporations to influence long-term plans.
The overall effect is a symbiosis of exporting. The Chinese economy and people export material goods to satiate American demand. We all hear about that. But, let's not forget the first export that we've happily sent around the entire world: the American economic system and lifestyle which suggests happiness through materialism, which has in part motivated Chinese men and women to migrate from farms into cities, to buy cars and televisions.
This, unfortunately, reveals some of the truths we prefer to hide from ourselves. Eugene Peterson who has lived as pastor, teacher and prophet has been attentive to America's destructive materialism for a number of years now - gathering wisdom and corroboration from other modern prophets like Bishop Desmond Tutu, Alexander Solzhenitsyn and Wendell Berry. In an interview from the late 1980's regarding the impoverished state of American Christianity , Peterson said:
"It is useful to listen to people who come into our culture from other cultures, to pay attention to what they hear and what they see. In my experience, they don't see a Christian land ...
"They see a lot of greed and arrogance. And they see a Christian community that has almost none of the virtues of the biblical Christian community, which have to do with a sacrificial life and conspicuous love. Rather, they see indulgence in feelings and emotions, and an avaricious quest for gratification.
"Importantly, they see past the facade of our language, the Christian language we throw up in front of all this stuff. The attractive thing about America to outsiders is the materialism, not the spirituality. It's interesting to listen to refugees who have just gotten into the country: what they want are cars and televisions [and from the Romanian visitors I've known: blue jeans]. They're not coming after our gospel, unless they're translating the gospel into a promise of riches and comfort." (Eugene Peterson's interview with Rodney Clapp in Christianity Today, published The Contemplative Pastor: Returning to the Art of Spiritual Direction).
As the 2008 Olympics prepare to begin, the world is about to see a China unveiled that will be radically different at first glimpse - a culture from the other side of the world. But, upon closer inspection the China that people will see in the years to come will be the last thing the world needs: an American economy of industrialized consumers. For, as Bob Woodruff's special said explicitly tonight, the very reason why Chinese families are leaving their farms and working torturous jobs and saving their meager pay is - in the end - to live like Americans, to have the ability to eat more meat, to buy the latest technology and to have the world at its finger-tips at low, affordable prices.
It may appear that the dragon is rising, but - in truth - it is the bull and the bear that are moving China into the 21st Century. So help us God.
I've been dreaming lately. A lot. Not nightmares per se, but nor of comfort or peace.
Like the dream I had of driving home in the rain, my windshield wipers on at a steady pace, the rain smothering the windshield. I was plagued by the shortness of my vision, unable to make out lines and turns, oncoming traffic or signs of counsel. I eventually, somehow safely, pulled up behind a stopped car only to realize that one of my headlights was out. And the other headlight was a dim haze in the slow-churning storm. I woke up. I never made it home.
Or the dream I had of trying to find the route home on Interstate 65 up through the north side of Indianapolis to Zionsville. On my way home, I was displaced and dislocated into a small urban area on the near north east side of Indianapolis. For the remainder of the evening, I was caught in a building with several children. And in that place there was the chaos and comedy of adolescent energies, bouncing between rooms and out of bunk beds, unable to stay centered in a chair. I longed to get out of those rooms and walls. When I did finally secure an escape, I was left walking the streets as an obvious stranger, a wanderer with no awareness of how to find my car, my street, my exit.
So, I'm listening to what those dreams are saying within me - letting fears surface into my mind like pockets of air trapped in deep seas.
But, during the day, I've returned to reading the Scriptures. I am taking those same fears and immersing them into ancient counsel and steady assurances. I am reading about Joseph and betrayals that end in reconciliation and deep, overwhelming gladness. I am reading about Peter and shortcomings that are overrun by the one who traverses even the chaos of the sea - turning the very object of terror into a playground of faith. And, I am learning that even my faith can be buttressed by pauses of remembrance and loosening of demands and time tables.
And tonight I not only read but understood what Julian of Norwhich said in courage and hope:
"Just as our flesh is covered by clothing; and our blood covered by our flesh, so are we, soul and body, covered and enclosed by the goodness of God. Yet the clothing and the flesh will pass away, but the goodness of God will always remain and will remain closer to us than our own flesh ...
"All shall be well and all shall be well, and all manner of things shall be well."